Gods Grandeur

Gods Grandeur

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Relationships between humans and the Divine have been the subject of many authors writings, in fact the very first text ever published was the Bible; the most comprehensive link between the Divine and humans. History is full of examples of people trying to define their relationship with the Divine or lack there of, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love...'; (Psalm 51:1). In the poems, “God’s Grandeur'; by Gerard Manley Hopkins and “Leda and the Swan'; by William Butler Yeats, humans relationships with the Divine is explored. In these poems we see an attempt to capture the obscurity, beauty and knowledge that are ever present in human beings relationships with the Divine. Hopkins and Yeats use a variety of method to express these views and in many ways differ in their attempts to capture this special relationship, but essentially they are trying to explain the same thing: the interconnection between the Divine and humans.
     In many aspect human and Divine relationships are very obscure, since it is often difficult to remain faithful when God does not appear to be apparent in every day life. Hopkins realizes this, but compels the reader to take a closer look at the splendor of God which surrounds us every day, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God'; (Hopkins). Everything around is full of God’s glory, but one needs to realize that, “God’s glory is hidden except to the inquiring eye or on special occasions'; (MacKenzie, 1981, p. 63). This is represented by the comparison of God’s glory to the shaking of gold foil. Gold foil when viewed from only one angle appears to be dull, but when shaken gives of radiant light, much like lightning. If we limit ourselves to looking for God only on the surface we may actually miss His true radiance because we are unwilling to explore other venues to discover Him. Much like lightning, God’s display of glory can be dangerous and powerful: “The electrical images convey danger as well as power, but their display is rare'; (MacKenzie, 1981, p. 63). The glory of God is present but at the same time is obscure and irregular, we must therefore, strive to see it in our everyday life. Yeats also uses these images of power to portray the obscure nature of the Divine: “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still'; (Yeats).

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Yeats portrays the coming of the Divine to Leda as a rape: &#8220;the power is an impregnating one, and violent; but it has a peculiar tenderness, for Leda feels, &#8216;...her thighs caressed&#8217;'; (Vendler, 1963, p. 106). This image of God coming to a human contrasts sharply with Hopkins images of God being all encompassing. Both however, portray the Divine as a mysterious obscure entity that is somehow interconnected with humanity and has both the capacity to be violent and dangerous, yet loving and caring as well.
     Along with danger and benevolence; beauty is an overarching theme of the Divine, God is beautiful and so are all his creations. Yeats uses the image of a swan, a bird that is considered beautiful, to represent the Divine in his poem. Though this swan does something terrible, it is still described with language that we would not typically associate with a rape. The language is indicative of something more, something special and in a sense, beautiful. The use of a swan for the impregnator is deliberate: &#8220;The issue is between Christianity, the Holy Ghost as the Dove of procreative Divinity; and the Classical, Swan as Jove the impregnator'; (Vendler, 1963, p. 105). Yeats calls into question our typical view of who and what God is. This poem is as much a commentary on how Christianity views God as it is a tale of ancient Greece and the ancient God Zeus. Contrary to this, Hopkins underlines the beauty of God&#8217;s undying love for humankind. &#8220;Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs- Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings'; (Hopkins). These final three lines of the sestet are, &#8220;a vision of dawn, the physical sequence suggesting the hope of a religious rebirth'; (MacKenzie, 1981, p. 66). We are again given a vision of the Divine being some type of bird like creature, with Hopkins reference to &#8220;wings';. We also see that this Divine spirit is with us even in our &#8220;bent'; ways. The use of the word bent gives a double connotation, we get the image of this Divine spirit above the Earth, in space, looking over us. It also points out the crookedness of humanity, or the warped path humanity has taken. Despite all of our misgivings, Hopkins depicts the beauty of the Lord as ever present, no matter how &#8220;bent'; our path becomes. In this final tercet Hopkins is providing an answer to David&#8217;s Lamentation, &#8220;My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning'; (Psalm 22:1). Hopkins is stating that God is never far he is always there watching over us. This, according to Hopkins, is the true beauty of the Lord, He is ever present in our lives.
     The quest for knowledge through an understanding of the Divine is a quintessential reality in all religions. Every religion strives to gain some kind of insight into life or the afterlife through a comprehension of the Divine spirits: &#8220;Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands'; (Psalm 119:73). Yeats suggests that even in Leda&#8217;s violation she may have been, &#8220;...momentarily opened to fuller vision. When the walls are broken, the veils rent, light may flood the soul'; (Whitaker, 1989, p.108-109). Leda somehow gains some kind of knowledge from this encounter with the &#8220;Divine Swan';. She somehow, &#8220;...put on his knowledge with his power...'; (Yeats), in this act Leda gains an insight into the Divine. He surrenders Himself to her and for a brief moment she comes to some kind of pinnacle or understanding of the Divine. Although the image is one of violation, Leda, somehow gains from this experience. Hopkins, on the other hand, leads us to believe that the truth of the Divine can only be found through a close inspection of our daily surroundings. All around us the truth is, &#8220;...seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man&#8217;s smudge and shares man&#8217;s smell...'; (Hopkins). Nature is jaded with the doings of man and to have, &#8220;a wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God'; (MacKenzie, 1981, p. 65). The knowledge of the Divine spirit lies within the nature that is part of our surroundings, the nature we trample upon. It is only with an appreciation for all that God has created that we can gain a better understanding of what God represents. Hopkins points out the irony that exists in our quest for knowledge. Along our journey we, &#8220;...have trod, have trod, have trod'; (Hopkins). In our quest for perfection and knowledge we walk all over the truth that lies beneath our feet. This is what Hopkins is pointing out. The glory and knowledge of God surrounds us all the time, but for some reason we are too blind to realize this and we allow it to slip by us everyday as we walk all over it. In spite of this apparent bleak reality Hopkins does not leave us in despair: &#8220;And for all this, nature is never spent'; (Hopkins). Hopkins leaves us with the assurance that no matter how long we trample on the truth, God is ever present and this knowledge does not fade but forever remains in the hopes that we will one day open our eyes, look around and discover it.
     Our relationships with the Divine are often difficult to articulate or describe. Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Butler Yeats, try to formulate these feelings in their poems, &#8220;God&#8217;s Grandeur'; and Leda and the Swan.'; Hopkins and Yeats explore the obscure nature, the beauty and the knowledge possessed, which are all characteristic of Divine powers. Humans beliefs in Divine sources of power are a means of inspiration. These beliefs allow us to aspire to something greater than ourselves, they give us an image to strive for. Though they differ in their approach, their directive is similar; there are inherent connections between human life and the Divine powers. Our belief in the Divine is a deeply personal affair and each and everyone of us has the ability to choose what we want to believe. Yeats and Hopkins, however, expose those the inalienable truths which are characteristic of all who choose to believe in some higher order or Divine power.


Abrams, Donaldson et al. The Norton anthology of English literature (6th ed. Vol. 2). N.W. Norton & Company. New York. 1993.
MacKenzie, Norman H. A readers guide to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Thames & Hudson. London. 1981.
Roberts, Gerald. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The critical heritage. Routledge & Keegan Paul. New York. 1987.
Vendler, Helen H. Yeats&#8217;s vision and the later plays. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1963.
Whitaker, Thomas R. Swan and shadow: Yeats&#8217;s dialogue with history. The Catholic University of America Press. Washington, DC 1989.
Zondervan. The Holy Bible: New and Old Testaments. Zondervan Publishing
House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1986
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